Saturday, October 26, 2013


General Crook's horse, Dragon Trail, Rangely, CO.
Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1990.

 Some petroglyphs that illustrate horses seem to also indicate a mark on the body of the animal. In some instances that probably indicates the paint on the horse that warriors of Great Plains tribes are known to have applied when they are faced with combat and have adequate time to prepare.  

The other possible implication of a mark illustrated on an image of a horse is that it is a brand and the horse was obtained from an Anglo. Since Native Americans are thought to have not used permanent brands to identify their own stock, a branded animal must have either been purchased, or stolen from an Anglo during a horse raid, or taken as booty after a fight with white men. Jim Keyser has illustrated instances in which the mark is readily identifiable as a US Government brand and those suggest that the animal was formerly a cavalry horse. Jim Keyser has long advocated comparing rock art to painted robes and ledger book art for models to aid interpretation. 

The so-called General Crook’s Horse, from Dragon Trail, a few miles south of Rangely, Colorado, is explained by locals as follows: “The Utes, once they incorporated the horse into their way of life, took long trips to the plains to the east to hunt buffalo. There is a Ute petroglyph some miles south of Rangely that pictures a horse with a brand on it. An enterprising resident checked out the brand with the National Brand Registry and found that it was from the Seventh Cavalry under General Crook who fought the plains Indians in the 1870s. Utes served as scouts for the Cavalry, and one of these scouts no doubt carved a picture in stone of the horse he rode during those wars.“ (

Closeup of so-called General Crook's horse, Dragon Trail,
Rangely, CO. Photograph: Peter Faris, September 1990.

Is the marking on this horse actually a Seventh U. S. Cavalry brand? I do not know, it certainly does not match any of Jim Keyser’s collected examples of brands portrayed in rock art.  Keyser has, however, illustrated a number of instances of rock art panels showing brands on horses. He also has collected a group of horse brands from Ledger Book art as seen below.
U.S. Cavalry brands from rock art (a Joliet) and ledger art
(b-f adapted from McCleary 2008:244). 
Keyser, 2012, p. 15, fig. 7.

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and
Combat, 1997, Afton, Halaas, and Masich,  pl. 127, p.247.

This example of a ledger book drawing shows Cheyenne warrior Brave Wolf fighting against a Crow warrior on horseback. The leading cavalryman has obvious brands on his horse, and Brave Wolf's horse shows a brand very much like that in Keyser's compilation of brands shown above.

Plains biographic rock art panel, 48HO9, Keyser, 2012, p. 14, fig. 5

In "My Name Was Made High: A Crow War Record at 48OH9" (2012:20-23), Jim Keyser has published drawings of a number of rock art panels showing brands on horses. This particular example was found on a boulder in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. He has matched the brand in this panel to two other examples of Plains Indian art. "One is painted on a Northern Plains bison robe now in the British Museum and thought to be of blackfoot origin that is tentatively dated on a stylistic basis to the period between about A.D. 1825 and 1850. A rock art horse at site 24YL589 in Montana, known from a tracing, has the same brand."

Keyser was an early proponent of comparative interpretation in rock art. He pointed out back in the 1980s that elements of Plains Biographic Style rock art matched elements found on painted robes and in the illustrated Ledger Books. His insights and amazing body of published work has made an immense contribution to our study of rock art.


Afton, Jean, David Fridtjof Halaas, and Andrew E. Masich
1997    Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and Combat, Colorado Historical Society and University Press of Colorado, Denver.

Keyser, James D.
2012    “My Name Was Made High:” A Crow War Record at 48HO9, The Wyoming Archaeologist, Vo. 55, Spring 2011 (pub. Oct. 2012).

Keyser, James D. and Michael A. Klassen
2001    Plains Indian Rock Art, University of Washington Press, Seattle.

McCleary, Timothy P.
2008    Ghosts on the Land: Apsaalooke (Crow Indian) Interpretations
          of Rock Art, PhD Dissertation, University of Illinois,

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Although I try for the most part to not use this forum as an outlet for my feelings and complaints, I do need to make a short editorial statement at this time on many responses I have received on my recent series of postings debunking the theories of Barry Fell. Of course, the first point that I feel needs mentioning is that most of the comments, and all of the most insulting, came from Anonymous. Either there is a person out there named Anonymous who thinks that repeated attacks and insults are the proper path to productive discourse, or there are lots of people named Anonymous who would rather insult than comment. In any case they have missed the point almost entirely.

While I have never tried to hide the fact that I disagreed totally with Barry Fell, I was not attacking the theories of diffusionists and epigraphers who share some of his conclusions. My comments in each and every case were intended to attack his verifiable falsification of data, and the lack of scientific method in those conclusions. I disagree with other diffusionists and epigraphers in interpretations of the origin of much rock art they discuss, but that does not mean that I do not believe that they have something to add to the discussion. Until more traditional interpretation methods can answer their questions they have a right to their theories. Indeed, I think that in many instances this leavens the discussion and keeps our subject from being too dry and ossified.

So here is the summation; yes, I attacked Dr. Fell for lying and falsifying data; no, I have never attacked or even much criticized other people who share some of his theories unless they, of course, share his unscientific practices. The practice of fraud and deception is neither science, anthropology, archaeology, or art history, it is just cheating. So, Anonymous, I am sorry if my statements seemed to be an attack on your beliefs. I meant them to be an attack on unethical practices in the practice of our field of interest, and I expect to stand behind them. Ethical behavior leaves no room for such practices, and if we are not to be ethical we should not take public positions. Thank you.


The pictograph panel below includes a fascinating example of a geological phenomenon illustrated in rock art - the earthquake.
York, Annie, "They Write Their Dreams on the
Rocks Forever," 1993, fig. 102, p. 153.

Here we have Annie York commenting on the pictograph panel at EbRk2. Co-author Richard Daley had asked her about the owl-like figure in this panel and she explained that it is not actually the owl, that this was a spirit figure occurring in the dream of the anthropomorph on the right. “Sometimes it’s the owl, but it should be more formed than this one - . Here it’s the same as the last one. These strong powers, when you stand in the mountains long enough they can take the form of a bird, or other forms.” (York 1993:153)

“The long slanting line is the earth, and the zigzag is an earthquake. He’s dreamed that too. And you can see it in the stars too. The legend time of Xwekt’xwektl was when they were forming people and animals. Then the earthquake ended that and devoured them. Afterwards the new people came up and they were smaller like today.” (York 1993: 154)

It is certainly worth noting that British Columbia is on the western part of the North American continent which marks the “ring of fire,” the circle of volcanic activity that outlines the Pacific basin, and causes large numbers of earthquakes at many sites along its length. In more stable areas there was probably no need for the mythologies to explain earthquakes, but the people of the Northwest Coast and associated Interior are intimately familiar with earthquakes and have to include explanations of them in their mythologies. One common cause of earthquakes is fighting between Thunderbird and the whales he preys on for food. Another mythological cause of earthquakes in parts of the Pacific Northwest is underground tunneling by the giant beaver(Castoroides ohioensis). Neither of these would seem to be involved in this instance because none of those protagonists are present in the rock art panel.

Additionally, we have to question as to whether or not the original creator of the pictographs meant that symbol to represent an earthquake, or whether that is a contemporary interpretation by local natives, and whether or not that matters. To a certain extent I have to state that it does not matter what the original intention was (because we probably could never know it anyway). What does matter is that in this time and at this place that symbol means “earthquake,” and that is good enough for me.


York, Annie, Richard Daley and Chris Arnett
1993    They Write Their Dream on the Rock Forever: Rock Writings of the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Close-up, Galisteo Dike, Santa Fe County, NM, 
Photograph: Peter Faris, Sept. 1988.

I have been commenting on what I consider to be egregious misinterpretations and outright falsifications by Barry Fell in his interpretation of rock art and rock inscriptions. In Saga America, (1980) Fell included the illustration of a famous rock art panel from Galisteo, New Mexico, also known as Comanche Gap.
Barry Fell, 1980, Saga America, p. 350.

“Petroglyph depicting the carved figurehead of a Viking ship recorded by Professor E. B. Renaud in 1938 from his site N.M.224 on the upper Rio Grande, New Mexico.” (Fell 1980:350)

This represents another example of Fell’s sloppy data. Far from being on the upper Rio Grande River as he states, it is found on the other side of the Sandia Mountains from Albuquerque, some 35 to 40 miles northeast of Albuquerque. It is a beautiful representation of Avanyu/Kolowisi/Palulukon, the horned water serpent of Pueblo mythology. Given that there is a water association in both the Pueblo horned water serpent and a Viking ship, there is no trace of cultural contact between the two peoples – ancestral Pueblo and Viking, and to state otherwise is to overlook fact and deny the truth.

Galisteo Dike, Santa Fe County, NM, 
Photograph: Peter Faris, Sept. 1988.

Fell has again totally ignored the rest of the rock art in a complex panel that includes a number of eagles and at least two snakes. To the Puebloan peoples the eagle symbolizes the spirit of the deity of “above” while the serpent represents the spirit of the deity of “below”. This is, in fact, a complex illustration of the interplay of the powers of above and below leading to balance in the world.

San Cristobal, Galisteo Basin, New Mexico. Polly 
Schaafsma, Rock Art in New Mexico, 1992, p.117.

Polly Schaafsma illustrated another panel nearby at the ruins of San Cristobal that shows the horned serpent in just the same way, even to the design around his throat. The caption for that illustration reads: "Fig. 148. Paired horned serpents and mask, San Cristobal, Galisteo Basin, Southern Tewa District. The checkerboard collar on the left-hand figure is typical and may signify corn. Photo by Karl Kernberger.” (Schaafsma 1992:117)

I am surprised that Fell did not appropriate that panel for his claims too. That way he could point to a whole fleet of Viking ships, and the ruins of San Cristobal could be a Viking city in the New Mexico desert. 

Barry, how could a Viking ship have reached the Galisteo Basin in New Mexico if it won't hold water?

This posting is the final one in my series debunking the epigraphy of Barry Fell. Not that such nonsense won't come up again in the future, but for now we will go back to a more positive focus on rock art. Thank you for following.


Fell, Barry
1980    Saga America, Times Books, New York.

Schaafsma, Polly
1992    Rock Art in New Mexico, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Meteorological panel, Stein River valley, British Columbia, 
Canada. Figure 80, York, They Write Their Dreams on 
the Rocks Forever, p. 115.
On April 17, 2010, I posted a column titled Meteorology in Rock Art - Lightning, in which I discussed lightning symbols in rock art. Lightning is one of the natural powers that is manifested in very striking ways, and it played a big role in Native American beliefs and mythology. In They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, 'Nlaka'pamux elder Annie York discussed lighning in the meteorlogical pictograph panel in Stein Valley. What is particularly interesting to me in this instance was that she also identified one symbol as representing ball lighning. 

           "That sign comes from when the sun threw out his little children. You see that little person? That person is running away from the bad weather. Of course on the other side , that’s the sign for a lightning storm, the two zigzags. Below that, that sort of football, that shows the thunder. You see, a thunder comes in a ball sometimes. It rolls onto the earth and it makes a big clap! It hits the earth and does that.
            My mother said it went right through a house at Yale. They were clearing out a chicken house, and my mother heard the thing rolling in. She was brave enough. She opened the door as soon as she seen that thing and it rolled across the floor and went clean outside where it made a really big ditch. It’s a wonder it didn’t explode in the house.” (p. 116-7)

Lightning strike on Trinchera Dike, Colorado. 
Photograph Peter Faris, September 2009.

We have all heard of ball lightning, but how many of us have actually experienced it. Once, in my early teens during a storm in my hometown I was rummaging for something in a hall closet. This was a violent storm with seemingly continuous lightning, and although it was primarily cloud to cloud and with little cloud to ground lighning I was not particularly worried about our house being struck. While I was bent over with my head down in the closet there was a overwhelmingly bright flash with no noticeable sound of thunder (which I have only experienced on other time in my life when lightning struck particularly close) and a flash streaked down the hall over my back. I have always believed that I experienced ball lightning on that occasion. In any case, Annie's story of the ball lighning resonates very strongly with me, and now I have a symbol to picture it by.


York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993    They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.